Archive for RXbirdwalk

Birdsong in BHW

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 22, 2017 by cliffdean

An unexpected heavy shower ceased before the walk began but left scents in the air and drops rattling down in the breeze. After that, alternating cloud and sunshine sent pulses of light through darker coppice.

From the start, the principal songs were Chiffchaf, Wren & Blackcap, the first simply onomatopoeic, so easy to learn, the second distinctively shrill  but the third sharing warbles and fluty notes with some other woodland birds.

Management by the Woodland Trust has resulted in a kaleidoscope of variation, be it of tree species, structure or intensity of light, these variables reflected in the birds present therefore in the songs emerging, often  from an invisible source. Moving away from the car park area and past denser bramble,we began to encounter more Robins and a single desultory  Nightingale.

Besides learning songs, we were looking for breeding evidence, following the BTO guidelines. At first the Blackcaps were no more than Singing Males (S) but soon we encountered a madly ticking and scolding bird – definitely Agitated (A) though at what we could not see. There was also a GS Woodpecker feeding very busily to suggest it had young in a nearby nest but if it did, we couldn’t hear them.

Round the corner,with opened up heath to the left and tall Scots Pines to the right, we heard two new birds: a Common Whitethroat (S), and some Siskins which maybe bred here earlier in the year  but now were not really doing anything special and were too high and quick  to check for youngsters, so just (H) –present in suitable breeding habitat.  More conclusive evidence was provided by a family procession of Long-tailed Tits,which gave us not only FL – recently fledged young – but great views of the brownish coloration compared with their busy parents’ pink & black.

Sadly there was no sign of Tree Pipit at the clearing but an area of tall scrub in the middle gave us Garden Warbler – an allegedly “difficult” song and the much easier Willow Warbler in the light birch fringes. The former – most considerately – was singing not 20m from a Blackcap, whose song is most easily confused with it. They share similar habitat and I’d just been reading in the BTO Volunteer magazine that Blackcaps will sometimes mimic Garden Warbler to deter incomers, but these two were very distinctive, adhering to the classic structures.

There were  a couple  of interesting moments of cognitive dissonance, where songs could be heard quite at odds with the habitats were looking at. The first was as we searched a very bare chestnut coppice, littered with dead diagonals of branches windthrown back in 1987. Small noises in the tops suggested Spotted Flycatcher but we just couldn’t see it/them. Then a Garden Warbler sang – completely wrong: no scrub, no cover. A short distance ahead however, passes a pylon line, the wood beneath it cleared ever five years and obviously coming up for another trashing since the scrub had grown up to Garden Warbler level.

The second occurred while we were in dark and creepy Hornbeam coppice, surrounded by flattened bluebells and ancient bell-pits, having just paid our respects to the Big Wild Service tree. Typical was a pair of Marsh Tits,scolding in typical fashion Through the wriggling branches came the chatter of a Reed Warbler. No cover, definitely no reeds, except that just downhill, out of the  coppice and through a dense screen of willows, is the reservoir.A shallow projection where an old road drops below the surface permits the growth of a stand of phragmites. Hence the Reed Warbler. Other wetland species were calling unseen from the lake: Coot & Little Grebe.

Above the heather of Holman Field, Buzzards (P) pair in suitable habitat, were circling quietly, then from the tall Scots Pines calls of Coal Tit & Goldcrests.

 

 

 

Always a winner

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 23, 2017 by cliffdean

Not a long walk at all – just over 4 miles there & back, but the route from Dogs Hill to Halpin Hide passes through such a range of habitats that it never fails to deliver a number of species it would be hard to find in many other places in the county. Birds of Shame still remind you, however, that it’s not a zoo and a tantalising sense  of chance remains. Yesterday we missed common but typical BoSs such as Bullfinch (but they’re always in the same place!), Kestrel & Marsh Harrier (no so common elsewhere but here should be reliable). All the  same we found 76 species on a cold,dark, drizzly morning.

Migrants were at last a notable feature of the walk,with a good deal of time spent listening to and trying to get a look at Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common & Lesser Whitethroat, Reed & Sedge Warbler. There was a Willow Warbler too, but a bit distant and feeble. We found flocks of Whimbrel feeding quietly on dry pastures as bubbling calls from above announced the arrival of further groups. Less expected was a single Curlew flying along the beach – most have by now departed.

Yelping calls of Med Gulls are such a part of the spring scene at Rye Harbour that it was hard to distinguish them as migrants apart from flocks of pure-winged adult corallini passing off-shore (with dark lines of Common Scoters flying beyond them) and although we had no luck in seeking out Lesser Black-backs on the roof of the caravan site club-house, a handsome pair settled for a while at Castle Water. I wasn’t sure what to make of a pristine pair of Common Gulls floating on The Ocean since the main northbound population went on north some weeks ago; were these late or thinking of sticking around to breed?

In the hide, another group pointed out to us a large brown raptor sitting with its back to us in the willows opposite which they thought was an imm Peregrine. Though at first unconvinced,  I had to agree with them once it turned to show its facial pattern. A Buzzard sat nearby, half-hidden in the leaves.

On the way back across the ridged grasslands we were treated to great views of a pair of Brown Hares and as we followed the fenceline looking for Corn Buntings, 3 Wheatears – all with differing plumage – jumped up out of rabbit holes.

The pools of West Nook Marsh were disappointing since the muddy margins are all overgrown by Crassula, offering little to the waders that should be dropping in there. Not even a Redshank.

Choosing to walk back along the shingle edge rather than the road, we came across a Ringed Plover and some confiding Turnstones but then the passing Swallows were joined by a few House Martins and as we watched them, a Swift passed across our field of view, way,way up.

Needless to say, the sun came out shortly afterwards.

 

RSPB Fore Wood

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 16, 2017 by cliffdean

This reserve at Crowhurst is a typical bit of Wealden Woodland,with all the usual features like steep-edged ghylls,old boundary banks, bell-pits and, at this time of year, beautiful ground flora of Wood Anemones & Bluebells, the latter perfuming the air.

There’s a lot of birdsong too, which is what we concentrated on during Saturday’s RXbirdwalk. The relative lack of habitat variation results in a limited number of species so the songs can be heard and compared repeatedly, but those species are present at what must be maximum density. This songscape is punctually embellished by the bass note of a train passing invisibly through the cutting on the wood’s north side.

Blue, Great & Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Nuthatch, Chaffinch & Woodpigeon could be heard – if not always seen – everywhere, with smaller numbers of Pheasant, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, GS & Green Woodpecker & Treecreeper.

Buzzards plainly had a nest in the vicinity, to judge by their constant presence low overhead,and above them, drifting Herring Gulls were howling. Oddly, we had just one fleeting encounter with Marsh Tits and heard Jays squawking just once too.

There was no sign at all of the LS Woodpeckers or Hawfinches mentioned on the info boards; I can recall seeing both here many years ago but don’t know if they are ever still recorded. But then, one never hears anything from this site. Plenty of local people walk here, exercise their dogs, a few children play but if any bird-watchers visit you hear nothing of it. Perhaps a dense population of common species is not seen as noteworthy.

Though there is evidence of rides being cut, coppice thinned and clearings opened up it’s all on a very small scale. We heard no Nightingales, probably since areas of dense scrub are limited, yet many Sweet Chestnuts look sick and could be cut back without much loss of amenity value.

A bit of variety was added during the short walk from the church (paying due respect to the very ancient hollow Yew in its raised churchyard),with a Whitethroat in the hedge right there, a Skylark singing from the cereal field beyond it, Jackdaws furnishing their nests with wool from a dead sheep, House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Collared Doves & Goldfinches around habitation, Yellowhammer, Mistle Thrush & Stock Dove on farmland around the wood itself.

 

The tail-end of Storm Doris

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 26, 2017 by cliffdean

Strong SW winds determined the course of today’s RXbirdwalk (from the relief of one sheltered spot to another) and our observational abilities, since we found it hard to keep our binoculars steady. It was quite cold too. And although I like to boast that this walk usually gets more than 60 species (usually more than 70 and in fact up to 85) today’s tally was a lowly 53, thanks to little birds sensibly keeping their heads down, roaring wind drowning out calls and a rough sea hiding most birds which might be floating upon it.

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Details of upcoming Reserve map by Pete Smith of Picturemaps

Having made all those excuses, the walk was not without reward, starting with a trio of handsome Fieldfares feeding in the lee of bushes right beside the path at Winchelsea Beach. Emerging from a near-birdless (but sheltered!) Beach Field to scan The Ocean, I noticed a small grebe with a white front bobbing out in the middle but soon diving, never to resurface.

“Did you say a Little Grebe?” “No, it was a small grebe.”

(You have to make that clear because capitals – which would make it a proper noun – can’t be heard. There are two main schools of thought about writing species’ vernacular names: a) all words capitalized e.g. Lesser Black-backed Gull b) no capitalization except when proper nouns are involved e.g. Dartford warbler, Bewick’s swan. The latter is the convention adopted by SWT and The Times. It’s generally no problem, though it make species harder to pick out when you’re scanning a page, but ambiguities can occur, mostly with “little”. In a recent Times article advising a walk around Rye Harbour a sentence began, “Elegant terns hovered over the water…” Were these terns just elegant – or were they Elegant Terns, a very rare species in Europe and one that would see a good few people jumping into their cars and heading south-east. Capitalization would eliminate the ambiguity. To be honest the latter case would merit caps & bold: ELEGANT TERNS. (!!! too))

Anyway, once a grebe reappeared near that spot it was a brown and fully capitalized Little Grebe. So I must have imagined (blame the wind) the white front……HOWEVER, on the way back, I spotted it again, spending more time under than upon the water, slowly,slowly, closer and closer..a Black-necked Grebe. Vindication.

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Photos in this post by Peter Matthews & Stuart Barnes

Emerging then from the renewed shelter of  The Wood and heading for the lee of Castle Farm,a large number of wagtails were spotted bouncing up & down from the filter beds over at the Water Treatment Works. I’d never been over there, though the shortcomings of local sewage provision had been the subject of a very interesting chat with someone from the IDB just this week. Why, I wanted to learn, was the road blocked with tankers & traffic lights outside the Co-op every time it rained?

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So we made a diversion, past Curlews & Egyptian Geese, to the shelter of the pines treatment structures where there were not only 20++ Pied Wagtails but Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Starling & Wren. What I really wanted to see/hear was whether there were any Grey Wagtails,which breed in every other WTW in the area so why not this one. No sign however.

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Upon arrival in the Halpin Hide,we were confronted with a great crowd of understated Gadwall backed up by more clearly heraldic Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon & Shelduck while Cormorants cruised over bearing sticks. No waders though apart from Lapwing & Oystercatcher, and no raptors at all. There were a lot of gulls about, on the fields and on the islands, giving an opportunity to sort through species and plumages of Black-headed,Common, Herring, Great & Lesser Black-backs, the latter two in fabulous breeding form. Although there have been plenty around since last weekend we only saw one – adult –Med Gull later on beside West Nook Meadows where we were also most surprised to see a large (for around here) flock of Barnacle Geese which had not been there earlier. The compactness of the group, the strengthening wind and their habit of suddenly chasing one another made it hard to get an accurate count but we settled for 55. Probably just hopped over the border from Scotney.

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Something nasty in the woods

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 5, 2017 by cliffdean

In a radical departure from the routine, we convened after lunch to avoid rain during the morning. I normally avoid afternoon birdwatching apart from the occasional look at roosts because, on the whole, there are fewer birds and more people. And so it proved to be at Ashes Wood where we met a lot of the latter plus barky dogs while the former were represented by little more than Robins, Blue & Great Tits until a Coal Tit joined in from the pine-tops.

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Along the old estate road it was pretty muddy but when we branched off, in order to avoid the dog-herders, the impermeable Wealden clay really came into its own, providing squelchy, rutted fields and deeply puddled gateways. The “Adventure” section of the walk involved our attempt to hop across a stream which is usually no problem except that it was swollen with rainwater running straight off that impermeable clay and a bank had collapsed.  A hop would not be adequate to guarantee reaching the other side so we made out way through brambles & alders upstream where another crossing might be found. In fact, the cleft got deeper & deeper but just as we reached the uncrossable gurgling water we came across a macabre tableau.

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In a space where the Pendulous Sedge Had been flattened lay the skull of a youngish Fallow Deer stag, bound and tangled in yards of green webbing. Other parts of the skeleton lay at the edge of the clearing. The free ends of the webbing were wound around a pole. The complexity of the tangle contradicted initial theories of some unfortunate accident but what had been the purpose? Had the unfortunate animal been bound up alive? Left there to die? Sacrificed in some pagan rite?

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Giving up on the stream-crossing plan, we retraced our steps towards the mill pond, pausing in a grove of Western Red Cedar to try for Firecrest, which seems fond of this species. One duly appeared, hopping around in the bushes beside us. The pond has had much of its marginal vegetation removed and a bunch of farmyard geese installed so had rather few other waterbirds on it, just a few Moorhens, Coots, Mallards and a single m Tufted Duck. A brief excursion onto Beech Farm was more successful, however, with c180 Linnets (so scarce on the coast this winter) and a few Yellowhammers.

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By this time, the sun had come out,bathing the landscape in golden afternoon light and throwing long shadows across the ancient, hornbeam-lined hollow lane back up towards the road. As sunset approached,we came across the third pair of Mistle Thrushes we’d seen, Song Thrushes could be heard all across the valley and the welcome crooning of a Blackbird was about a fortnight early.

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Turned out nice again?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 1, 2017 by cliffdean

Week after week accounts of RXbirdwalks are prefaced in true British fashion by reflections upon the unreliability of weather forecasts. Same this time: the clouds promising a miserable dark and maybe rainy morning quickly and unexpectedly peeled back to reveal a clear sky which reflected in the fabulous ink-blue water of Dengemarsh and shone from the pale-gold reeds.

So that’s got the meteo out of the way. But – year upon year these reports are of necessity repetitive: the seasons turn bringing with them more or less the same birds to more or less the same places. I could forget all that and go for the unexpected, joining the glum cavalcade of rarity chasers but that does not appeal to me. What does change, most often & most interestingly, is the human context. This has always interested me: the personal/family/social/political backdrop to these birds trips, bird walks, birdsong, bird sightings.

Exemplary writing of this kind is found in “Adventure Lit Their Star” by Kenneth Allsop.

But there’s also a well-known intention to use birds as an escape  from all of that – a reviving reconnection with the non-human world. I do this of course but in the same breath, as it were, criticise those who wilfully fail to notice the impact of politics upon the wildlife that they imagine to be free of all that. So…apart from the weather Saturday’s RXbirdwalk was influenced by this:

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…and I’m really not sure that that’s going to turn out nice.

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So while we were wandering the Dengemarsh trail enjoying the birds, the light, the soundscape, the future was blighted for hundreds of people who believed they were flying to a better one and it was Raining In My Heart. Apart from the beautiful Marsh Harriers, the fabulous ice-coloured Smew, the acrobatic male Bearded Tit Showing As Well As Anything my spirits were lifted by a scabrous cartoon by Steve Bell, standing on the shoulders of the giant James Gillray.

I would post it here,but since this is a Family Blog…

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…though I’m not sure what’s on the TV. More acceptable in those days perhaps…

Star birds

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 22, 2017 by cliffdean

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Apart from the glittering crystals that sparkled from frozen leaf-litter, the main benefit conferred by yesterday’s frost was the firming up of otherwise inevitable Brede High Woods mud. The sharp winter light cast dramatic shadows and lit the bare upper branches with such clarity that it should have been easy to clap eyes on the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which called so loudly and so close to us so soon after we left the car park. But good light, bare branches and eight pairs of searching eyes were not sufficient to find it even though it must have flown straight over our heads to call for a second time the other side of the path. Good though, so scarce, so retiring and in a part of the wood where I’ve not encountered them previously.

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A stealthy approach to the silted-up head of the reservoir – via the Wild Service Tree – permitted us views of Great Crested & Little Grebe, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard & Mandarin, the last, unfortunately, dull in the shadow of the overhanging bank rather than blazing orange in the light.

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Our target was, however, Crossbills, which had been reported for the last few weeks in Holman Wood. After some minutes of listening in to nothing but Coal Tits, we found a young orangey male Crossbill perched at the top of a tall spruce, chip-chipping away happily. Just the one though, although Crossbills are sociable birds. Later, 2 flew up through Streetfield Wood and Jane B saw another 5. In that same tree a pair of Siskins, the male as bright as an American warbler were dashing about, repeatedly returning to the same place, while in nearby trees many more Siskins were fluttering about trilling and wheezing. Smaller numbers of Goldfinches & Redpolls could be heard up in the pine-tops.

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Other than the usual forest birds, the other species of interest was a Raven croaking on Sedlescombe Heath.

35 species.